- The Treaty of Rome laid out the blueprint for the creation of the world’s largest single market.
- The EU, for all of its troubles, has generally been a progressive partner to Africa, especially with respect to the establishment of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy.
- The growth of the EU-Africa partnership since 2000 — outside of EU-ACP channels — has broadened the relationship into less traditional areas such as science and technology.
The signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community (EEC) 60 years ago in March 1957, came at a tumultuous time in relations between Europe and Africa.
Just weeks earlier Kwame Nkrumah had declared Ghana a republic, an event which was a turning point in the decolonisation of sub-Saharan Africa. Nkrumah remarked that the treaty’s inclusion of colonial territories was to neocolonialism what the Berlin Treaty of 1885 had been to colonialism.
He had a point. Two of the six founding members of the EEC — Belgium and France — still held substantial colonial interests on the continent. Accession to the community thus posed the crucial question of what to do about them.
The question became contentious enough to threaten the collapse of the entire Treaty of Rome negotiation process. The other four members of the EEC were Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
France in particular was steadfast that its colonies be “associated” with the community. The French argument ultimately won, albeit with some compromises. The treaty’s association agreement would last five years and the preferences France enjoyed from its colonies would be gradually expanded to the rest of the EEC.
The agreement served as the originator of Europe’s subsequent relationship with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). So this 60th anniversary is not just about Europe. The treaty created a framework for multilateral relations between Europe and Africa.
The principles of trade and aid enshrined in the treaty’s association agreement form the basis of Europe’s development agenda in Africa to this day, even though relations have expanded into many more areas.
The Treaty of Rome laid out the blueprint for the creation of the world’s largest single market. It also contributed to the post World War II process of co-operation and reconciliation in Europe. The EU, for all of its troubles, has generally been a progressive partner to Africa, especially with respect to the establishment of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy and the unique programming efforts it has generated.
This of course does not negate instances of neocolonialism, nor the damage done by the clumsy promotion of the European Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
The Africa of today is not the Africa of 1957. The African Union is also a more robust partner than its predecessor, the Organisation of Africa Unity. Back in 1957, the Treaty of Rome laid down the twin principles of EU-Africa relations throughout the 20th century and beyond: trade and aid. These principles were framed within the larger idea of development cooperation.
An overseas development fund was also created, with all six EEC members contributing to it. Controversially, the agreement served to perpetuate African dependency on Europe.
The twin principle
This contradictory relationship between dependency and progressive thinking has made Africans understandably circumspect. What next for Europe and Africa?
The twin principles of trade and aid still exist. But the growth of the EU-Africa partnership since 2000 — outside of EU-ACP channels — has broadened the relationship into less traditional areas such as science and technology, higher education, private investment, infrastructure and continental integration.
But Kwame Nkurumah’s 1957 criticism is still being levied at the EU today for its alleged neocolonial promotion of the EPAs.
Pundits in East and Central Africa have been vociferous in their opposition to the agreements.
However, EU officials have a dramatically different interpretation. The EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development described the 2016 EPAs with six Southern African Development Community (SADC) members as helping to tap the economic potential of the private sector and increase trade.
With such contrasting perceptions, it is perhaps unsurprising that SADC is the only regional body to have signed an EPAs with the EU despite more than 10 years of negotiation.
What is crucial is that both sides recognise how far they have come since the Treaty of Rome.
And that they accept that a more equitable partnership requires continued commitment to cooperation.